John Byrne

8th April 2011 at 01:00
Among many encouraging teachers, the Tutti Frutti writer picks out a motherly art mistress

I had a lot of good teachers. One of them, whose name I can't remember, was really wonderful. She came to Our Lady of Lourdes in Cardonald, which was my primary school, and she was Canadian. She taught us to sing Canadian songs, and got us to sing Autumn Leaves, not the kind of standard version, but a children's version. She was just adorable, so kindly and warm, and I wish I could remember her name.

She had dark hair and wore the most beautiful boots. It was winter time and they had fur on them. I remember the sense of her very clearly - she was so kind, so loving. As far as I can remember, she would have been round about 30, but I'm guessing.

If I saw her now, I would just say how much I loved her when I was a child. I think everyone did. She might have been there a year, it might have been less, but when she went back to Canada, I was heartbroken.

There was a young Mr Donaghy, who taught at Our Lady of Lourdes. He was a young man, 24 or 25. He took us on a trip to the far north east of Scotland. We stayed in Hopeman, near Elgin, in a school gymnasium. We went to Pluscarden Abbey, and there was a brother there. He said that in 25 years' time, the abbey would be completely restored, and he was exactly right.

I went back because, funnily enough, we went to stay in Nairn, and I wondered why I felt so at home in that part of the world. Then the penny dropped.

My talent for art was recognised very early because, at Our Lady of Lourdes, I remember winning a prize. I won a slice of shortbread for a particular drawing which was held up for everyone to see. I had always known that I wanted to be an artist, but I certainly knew I was on the right track then.

I had so many good teachers. Mrs Keaton was my art teacher at St Mirin's Academy. She was an older woman who taught us in the second, third and fourth years.

She was very motherly and she drew beautifully. There was a guy in the year above me who had done a wonderful watercolour of ducks flying over a field or a river with reeds in it. I later found out that Mrs Keaton had helped him with it. Mrs Keaton, you were the making of me. She really was. Because she was such a lovely person, so encouraging.

Then there was our English teacher, we called him Wavy Davy. I wrote an essay for Wavy Davy on one occasion about the building of a model galleon. It took you through the whole of the building process, and it was praised very highly as an example of how to write an essay. That is when I learnt that you write about things from your heart.

I was good at art, English and geometry, and I was hopeless in everything else. I just carried on.

My group of friends and I were put in Higher maths, and then we were demoted to Lower maths and spent the periods singing. This was during the lesson, and the teacher was slightly hard of hearing. We sang at just the right volume, just popular music of the time.

He couldn't hear where it was coming from, because it was coming from all sides of the room.

I was certainly not the best behaved student by any means. We did go to school for a carry-on - that's what we loved about school. There were three or four of us. We were so interested in ourselves that we didn't really notice if we were popular, but I guess we were, because we always had a laugh.

John Byrne was talking to Julia Belgutay


Born - Paisley, 1940

Education - St Mirin's Academy, Glasgow School of Art

Career - Artist and playwright. Wrote The Slab Boys and six-time Bafta award-winning television series Tutti Frutti. Designed record covers for Donovan and The Beatles. His paintings hang in leading galleries around the world, including Kelvingrove, Glasgow.

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